House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regard.

Topics

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent remarks on this important issue, as it is obviously something that we in the NDP have been fighting for. While we are glad to see the government take leadership, as my colleague noted, it has been a long time coming.

I would like to focus on the question of the RCMP's response to sexual harassment in the force. I heard the minister's remarks, which very rarely referenced what is not only a national concern but also a level of crisis among many women working in the force, as well as to a lot of women across Canada who are asking what is going on within our national police force and are wanting to see national leadership on this.

Yes, this legislation is a response to some of it, but it by no means is an exhaustive or proactive response to what is a very serious issue both for the RCMP and Canadians. I would like to ask my colleague how he feels about this need for focus and the kind of leadership we would like to see from the government when it comes to standing up for women in the RCMP, all RCMP officers and a general approach to gender equality in our country.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are two further concerns in the area of sexual harassment. One of them is that the RCMP commissioner has launched a gender audit within the RCMP to determine what kinds of problems he is going to need to address. We are going ahead with the legislation in the absence of the results from that audit. Therefore, I am hoping that when we go to committee we will be able to get at least some interim advice from the commissioner on what he has found in those areas. This could help guide the government in providing real leadership in ending sexual harassment within the RCMP and sending a signal to the broader Canadian society and young women who might want to join the RCMP about the confidence they can have. I do feel that we will have a crisis in recruiting women in the force if we do not address this.

The second concern is that the public complaints commission has launched an investigation into sexual harassment within the RCMP and we are now replacing that commission with a new body. One of the questions that New Democrats will be asking in committee is what are the succession plans to allow the commission to complete its work on sexual harassment. Again, we are hoping to have some interim indications to help guide us in committee.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his excellent speech and for doing such a terrific job of summarizing what Bill C-42 is all about.

Like the minister did in his opening remarks, my colleague talked about a number of amendments the committee would be able to make. Can he talk about the kind of amendments he would like to add to this bill to flesh it out and make it tougher on harassment in the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very serious question on how we can actually make the legislation provide the kinds of things the RCMP commissioner needs to take action on sexual harassment.

In terms of the timing of the bill, one of the curious things is that the minister had the courtesy to inform me that there were translation errors in the text of the bill. If it has taken this long to get the bill into the House of Commons it is a bit odd to receive a letter from the minister saying the bill will have to be corrected.

Apart from those housekeeping things, New Democrats will be talking about the kinds of amendments that would ensure a balanced disciplinary procedure, greater independence for investigations and greater independence for those who serve on the new civilian review body that is being created under the legislation.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister a question, but I found his answer unsatisfactory, so I would like to ask my colleague the same question.

Many people have said that the RCMP has fundamental problems and that the recommendations of the commission mentioned in the bill are not binding.

How can such a commission, which has no teeth whatsoever, solve these fundamental problems?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is part on which Paul Kennedy, the former public complaints commissioner, made very strong statements. His view was that in his time in the job, which amounted to five years, he felt he needed greater powers to make binding recommendations.

It goes back to this kind of nexus of relationships between the commissioner and the minister and the commission, which is supposed to hold them accountable. Both the commission, which is supposed to do the accountability, and the commissioner report to the minister, so there is no clear hierarchy of someone who can make recommendations that will have to be carried out.

The reports from the commission, even the new commission that is proposed, that have to come to Parliament are only annual reports. Therefore, with any interim reports with recommendations in them, the minister can choose whether to forward those to Parliament for debate.

We are left with a situation that I believe lacks the true independence we need in the civilian oversight of the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague just spoke about the independence of the RCMP. This reminded me that Bill C-42 is partly based on Bill C-38, which was introduced in a previous Parliament.

Both bills propose similar things. For example, this type of bill would once again enable the RCMP to conduct investigations itself in certain circumstances. For example, the bill proposes that each province be able to choose the organization responsible for investigating the RCMP; if no organization is able to do so, the RCMP itself will investigate.

I would like to ask my NDP colleague what he thinks about this piecemeal system within the RCMP. Does he not think that this type of system would undermine Canadians' trust in the RCMP?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked a very interesting question.

We have seen a regrettable tendency by the government across the board to shed responsibilities and pass them down to the provinces. The RCMP is in fact our national police force. If Canadians are to have confidence in the RCMP, it seems that the buck has to stop at the national level which should quit trying to push these responsibilities down to the provincial level. That is a great concern in the bill and one that we will address in committee.

Like the minister, the hon. member, my associate critic, and I fanned out across the country. I know the member for Alfred-Pellan met with the Canadian Police Association. She also met with the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs. I attended the annual meetings of the Canadian Association of Police Boards. In all those meetings with all of those people we found serious concerns, not that the government was heading in the wrong direction or addressing the wrong problems but with some serious concerns about the measures contained in the bill to address those problems.

Once again, we will look to the committee process to make amendments to the bill, which are quite significant in terms of independence of investigation, independence of oversight and to give the commissioner balanced disciplinary powers and the powers he needs to address sexual harassment.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a good bill to start us off this fall in the House, and I am pleased to participate in this debate.

To start, I would like to talk more generally about the actions of police forces by sharing with members an incident I witnessed this summer.

I stopped at a Tim Hortons restaurant in my riding to get a coffee and work on my work plan. When I entered, there were three people seated at a table: two women and a man. After some time it became clear that the third person did not really know the other two. This third person was a woman in her twenties. She had her head in her hands and was crying. She was obviously very upset. This went on rather quietly for about 15 minutes. Then, two SPVM—Service de police de la Ville de Montréal—police officers walked in. They started to speak to the woman who was obviously upset, and took her outside. There was a long discussion that lasted a good 30 minutes. The police officers were extremely professional. They were very compassionate towards this woman. They asked her questions. This woman may have been suicidal or on drugs, or she may have been going through a psychological crisis. Eventually an ambulance arrived and the police officers helped the woman lie down on a stretcher. The ambulance obviously took her to the hospital.

I shared this story as an example of how wonderful and professional our police forces are, and how patient and attentive they are when they are helping individuals or facing a situation that could turn out badly.

This exemplary conduct on the part of Montreal's finest should not surprise anyone.

I know we are talking about misconduct of police officers, and specifically officers within the RCMP, but I think for every one incident of alleged misconduct or questionable behaviour by the police, there are thousands of incidences every day in the country, like the one I described, in which officers acted in a manner consistent with the highest professional standards, in a manner faithful to their lengthy and rigorous training and in keeping with the highest ideals of service to the community, the same ideals that led them to seek a career in law enforcement in the first place.

On a personal level, the police officers I know in my community are individuals of the highest integrity. They are committed to public service. I think of Roberto Del Pappa, the community relations officer at station 1 in my riding. I think of Paul Dufort, a detective for many years, a gentleman who had a career as a detective with the Montreal police prior to being elected city councillor in my hometown of Kirkland. I think of Michel Lecompte, now retired, but for many years a stalwart presence in Montreal's West Island community as commander of station 1.

There are many police officers serving in the House in a new capacity as elected representatives of the same people they once served as peace officers. I take this opportunity to salute their previous contributions to Canada in their role as members of various police forces.

It is true that what I described did not specifically involve the RCMP, and we are talking about the RCMP's problems today. However, all peace officers are pretty much cut from the same cloth. They are all members of the same family, life members of a true honour society, what used to be called a “brotherhood” before women joined the forces to serve in the same capacity as men and provide the diversity necessary in any public institution that aims to earn and keep the trust, respect and support of the general population.

I came to understand the deep and special bonds that existed within the police community through a friend of mine, the Honourable George Springate, who is now a senior citizenship judge. Many members in the House may have heard of him. He started his career as a policeman and then became a place-kicker for the Montreal Alouettes and helped win the Grey Cup in 1970. After that, he became a lawyer and afterward was head of the police technology program at John Abbott College in my riding. He has been a citizenship judge for a number of years now, doing an exemplary job giving the oath to new citizens. I have come to understand that Judge Springate knows every police officer in the country. Every time he runs into a police officer, somehow he seems to know him or her. Whether it is an RCMP agent or a member of other police forces or municipal police forces, he makes us realize that it is one big community of individuals, men and women, serving society.

It is true that there is some cynicism in our society toward police officers. Even when I was at that Tim Hortons this summer and the police officers were dealing with the situation at hand in an exceptionally professional and noble way, there were people in the coffee shop who somehow thought they were using too much force, which was absolutely not the case. Therefore, there is a level of cynicism toward the police. Obviously, to some extent this bill is intended to reassure the public that our RCMP officers are behaving properly.

However, I would like to suggest that this cynicism is really surface deep. Fundamentally, Canadians truly trust their police officers and feel they are there to maintain order and to do the best in upholding the public good. We just have to think for a moment that everyone here who might have kids probably would have given them the following advice: “If ever you're in trouble, lost or you need some help and there's a police officer around, go to the police officer”. A public that is cynical toward the forces of law and order would not say that to their children.

Also, we all know how much more comfortable we feel if we are in a situation where there is or the potential of a disturbance when we see a police officer not far away. If we see someone speeding on the highway and we just happen to see a police car not far away, we somehow feel much more secure. That means we really fundamentally do appreciate the work of our police forces.

This does not mean that police forces always operate in a perfect way or that reform is not required. Police forces are human creations. They are human constructs and human institutions. As a result, their management structures, procedures and operations are a function of legislation that is created by legislators. Sometimes some reform is required. The system is not perfect and changes need to be brought, especially as society evolves. Fundamentally, Bill C-42 is about changing procedures so that inappropriate behaviours can be dealt with effectively and decisively by the RCMP's internal disciplinary mechanisms. However, it is also about changing RCMP culture.

Organizational cultures communicate signals about what is expected, about what is tolerated and, conversely, about what is not tolerated. I would suspect that, as in any organization, the vast majority of RCMP officers' core personal ethics guide them instinctively toward appropriate behaviour, both as citizens and in their role as police officers.

At the other extreme, there are no doubt those who require clearer signals from the surrounding environment and corporate culture to inform them of what behaviour is acceptable and what behaviour is not.

The RCMP's internal disciplinary structures, policies and procedures must clarify, even simplify, those signals so that expected standards of conduct for a federal police officer are clearly communicated. Obviously, this has not always been the case. One simply has to look at the disciplinary process within the RCMP at the moment to understand how complex it is. It is really hard to wrap one's mind around the various aspects of that system.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why there have been some incidents over the last few years involving the RCMP; for example, the Maher Arar case where matters were not properly dealt with, where the RCMP took some false information to American authorities that resulted in Mr. Arar's imprisonment and torture.

Maybe it is the current system and its failure to communicate properly the inherent, solid values of the RCMP that has led officers to go astray in other ways. For example, in 2004 the RCMP raided the home and office of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill. Soon thereafter, the Ontario Court of Justice ruled that the sections of the Security of Information Act used by the RCMP violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Somewhere there is a problem in communicating, to some officers anyway, what is expected in standards of behaviour. The court also found that the issuance and execution of the warrants in that case constituted an abuse of process by the RCMP and ordered that they be quashed.

Then in 2007, David Brown, a former head of the Ontario Securities Commission, released his report on allegations that senior RCMP officers covered up problems in the administration of the force's pension and insurance fund. He did not find an issue of cover-up, just mismanagement, saying the force requires major changes to its governance and culture: “We need fundamental cultural, structural and governance changes throughout the RCMP”. He went on to say that the RCMP structure and culture “is completely at odds with the reality of running a $3 billion enterprise”.

Today we are debating a bill that is intended to bring some reform, some clarity and perhaps some simplification to disciplinary procedures and other related procedures within the RCMP so they are clearly understood by RCMP officers.

In regard to the bill, we are especially pleased that the government has finally given in on something Liberals have been seeking for a long time: a civilian complaints commission with the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, to review the RCMP's compliance with legislation and regulations and to appoint civilian observers to assess the impartiality of criminal investigations.

One of my colleagues raised this point somewhat in a tangential way a moment ago in her question to the NDP critic. Yes, provincial police forces will be empowered, and I believe they are empowered at the moment, to investigate situations of potential or alleged misconduct by RCMP officers. However, the new complaints commission or complaints office, the name of which escapes me at this moment, will have the power to review investigations to see if they were truly impartial and will also have the power to call witnesses.

That is an important safeguard. Whether it is a perfect mechanism, we will see in committee. We will hear differing opinions on that, no doubt, and we will produce amendments as a result.

The RCMP is an iconic and thus powerful symbol for Canadians, but its identification with Canada and our Canadian values of order and good government is also international. If I am not mistaken, the RCMP or mounted police, as it is known, is the most identifiable symbol of Canada in the world outside our borders. We must restore that symbol's polish not so much to maintain the global community's esteem for Canada, though that is desirable, but more important, so that Canadians can have the confidence they require that our country's laws are being respected by those who enforce them and that the peace officers who work to uphold that respect are carrying out their duties with integrity. In other words, that the values that they represent are real and that there is no double standard in living and applying those values. That is why this bill is important. That is why we must get its detailed provisions right. We cannot afford, as a committee, as a Parliament, to slip up on this important task before us.

I look forward to participating in the study of Bill C-42 in committee and working with my colleagues in amending it where necessary. I sincerely hope that government members on committee will be open to suggestions from the opposition. The government probably has its own point of view of what needs to be amended, but I sincerely hope the government listens to the debate because these debates sometimes uncover issues that people who prepared the bill did not foresee, people within the department or ministers of cabinet. That is going to be an important part of this process, and I hope the government takes advantage of the committee process to make the bill better.

Finally, it is unfortunate that it took a letter from new RCMP Commissioner Robert Paulson underscoring the need for urgent reform before the government saw fit to act. It is also unfortunate, quite frankly, that it took some high profile sexual harassment cases to encourage the government to act.

We Liberals obviously wish to assist the new commissioner in the mandate he has been given to reform the RCMP's structures, disciplinary processes and ultimately its culture and credibility with Canadians. We are looking forward to working on the bill at committee. We will obviously be supporting it at second reading.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, more than 200 women have now come forward in a class action lawsuit regarding sexual harassment in the RCMP. As members know, we on this side of the House have been pushing the minister for months now to prioritize the issue of sexual harassment in the RCMP.

One of the things Bill C-42 does not directly address is the systemic issues in the culture of the RCMP. The bill by itself would not change the current climate in the RCMP. In fact, for me, there is one glaring omission in the bill.

Nowhere in the bill, or anywhere else for that matter, has the minister mandated the adoption of a clear anti-harassment policy in the RCMP, one that contains specific standards for behaviour and specific criteria for evaluating the performance of all employees. It is obvious to me that such a policy is needed to serve as a basis for a fair and disciplined process.

I was interested in the member's remarks on the topic of sexual harassment in the RCMP, but I note that when the Liberals were in government they did not create such a policy. I wonder whether he would indicate to me now whether he would be supportive of adopting a sexual harassment policy in the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

September 17th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Of course we would, Mr. Speaker. I sincerely believe that everyone in the House would like to see an up-to-date and rigorous sexual harassment policy in the RCMP.

One of the other concerns I have about the bill, which relates to the point that the hon. member raised, is that so much is being left to future regulation. We ran into a similar situation when the committee was studying private member's bill C-293. That bill lays out a framework, but the details are to come later.

It is important that at committee perhaps the RCMP could table a model sexual harassment policy, one in which it would commit to putting in regulations, perhaps, but one to which it would commit today, publicly, as being the one it would live by.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, in any large organization that one is managing, it is impossible, very inefficient and very expensive to try to micro-manage and keep track of what every single person in that large institution is doing. That is why it is so important, at a senior management level, to take control of the culture of an organization that one is managing.

My question to my hon. colleague is whether or not this bill reassures him and makes him believe that change in culture will occur at the RCMP.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am hopeful. I do think there needs to be more detail. We need to know more about the kinds of structures that will be created.

However, we do know that the commissioner will be given more latitude to reward well-performing officers and to discipline those who fall short of expected standards of behaviour. This is a positive development. It is a desire to cut through bureaucratic disciplinary systems that have probably evolved over a long period of time but have never truly been simplified or rationalized.

I hope the commissioner will exercise his new latitude decisively and wisely, thereby helping to transform the culture. However, we need more detail about why the current system does not work and about what the government plans to put in its stead.

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

My colleague from Hamilton Mountain asked an excellent question about what is going on with the class action lawsuit regarding sexual harassment brought forward by nearly 200 women against their employer, the RCMP.

It is crucial that we create an anti-harassment policy, and Bill C-42 presents the perfect opportunity to do just that: to create a policy that will transform the unhealthy environment that reigns within the RCMP.

Since this has been going on for years, my colleague likely knew that harassment that existed when he was in government.

Now that they agree that an anti-harassment policy is needed, why did they not do something about it when they were in power?

Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I was not part of the government at the time.

We need to act now. Maybe something should have been done in 2005, but everyone was surprised by the scope of the problem. We were surprised when some female members of the RCMP reported that they had been sexually harassed. Fortunately, this has been making headlines recently, which is forcing the government and everyone else to take action. However, something should have been done sooner.

The committee's examination will determine if any policy on sexual harassment existed and what went wrong.

We need to look toward the future. As committee members, our duty is not so much to look to the past, but rather to ensure that the sexual harassment policy that is developed is designed for the 21st century.